Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120 - 128)



  120. The American suggestion that they could fire missiles as part of their defence from ships is equally deluding themselves, is it?
  (Mr Roper) The Americans can do it because of their sophisticated technology.

  121. They can hold their ships steady, can they?
  (Mr Roper) They can feed appropriate information from sophisticated navigation equipment on board ships through to the missile system. That is how Trident is launched, because it is launched from a submarine that is moving, but that is not simple technology and not something any emergent state is going to have.

  122. What have we in the way of defending the United Kingdom in the way of any short range thing coming in? What can we do in the United Kingdom today or in the next 12 months to protect ourselves?
  (Mr Helliwell) At the risk of again sounding like a broken record, it is not the case that active defences are our only defence against this sort of threat. Coastguards and Customs and Excise operate on intelligence. For example in the case of, the MV Nisha a while ago we were operating on intelligence to intercept what was perceived to be a threat. Active defence against short range missiles using, for example, PAC-3 is probably one of the least effective and most expensive ways of going down this route. If you take PAC-3, the amount they cost and the amount of area that they are able to defend, it would be a nonsense to buy sufficient systems to put all the way around the coast of the United Kingdom.

  123. Let us talk about 1,000 British troops deployed in Afghanistan for a prolonged period of time. Is it not worth investing in protecting them? How do we protect them?
  (Mr Helliwell) With the range of capabilities that we set out earlier.

  124. We have not got anything to protect them from an incoming missile, have we?
  (Mr Helliwell) There is passive defence, there is counter force, there is deterrence and there are active defences. We do not currently have active defences, but we have the other three in some quality.

Patrick Mercer

  125. What options is NATO studying for our future in this?
  (Mr Roper) The NATO feasibility study completes at the end of this year. It is taking forward work that started a while ago on a potential staff target for theatre missile defence in the NATO theatre. There are two consortia that are running with this. It is primarily looking at command and control type issues. If you look at the current capabilities of missiles that are assumed will exist within NATO countries and how they might be integrated and exploited to their maximum, that sums up my knowledge of that study. It is due to report at the end of the year. Industry is running with it until the end of this year. Until we see the outcome, we will not know for sure what they have come up with.

  126. If we were to decide we needed theatre missile defence, what would suit us best? What is the most cost effective? What is the combination factor?
  (Mr Roper) If you want to defend a military operation, you will probably want to defend an area of 100 or so kilometres at the minimum. The TRRAP studies reveal that the optimum way of doing that would be via a layered defence comprising a very short range, low altitude defence akin to PAC-3, accompanied by a slightly longer range but still intercepting within the atmosphere system and the US have one of those in development called the THAAD.

  127. Do you think we would buy off the shelf or from our own initiative?
  (Mr Roper) It is possible that the European industry might attempt something. There is potential for that. It is inconceivable we would do it nationally, on our own. Industry is multinational.

  128. Does not the timescale of this preclude anything other than off the shelf buying?
  (Mr Roper) It depends when you want it. If you want it straight away, yes, you are right.
  (Mr Hawtin) To put this in context, one very interesting observation President Bush made at his press conference with the Prime Minister last year when he was talking specifically about the United Kingdom, but in terms of the line of questioning it has wider application, was, "As to whether there will be sites or no sites in the United Kingdom that is too early to determine because I have yet to propose to the Prime Minister what will work." This "what will work" is a problem we face very widely in terms of theatre missile defence and missile defence in terms of homeland.

  Chairman: Thank you very much. This subject will not disappear upon your departure from this Committee room. The Secretary of State is coming before us on 20 March. We will be visiting Russia. It is a subject of primary importance that we will be continuing to examine at very considerable length. Thank you very much, Mr Hawtin and team.

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